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“There’s more and it’s nice,” Alice amended.

Oliver relented, sinking back into the couch. “Alright then,” he said. “Go on.”

“Well—look at you now! You’re the nicest person, and so friendly and loyal! Who wouldn’t like you now? Your parents would adore you. And anyway, I think you’re wonderful, and you can trust that to be true. No tricking required.”

Oliver had turned a blotchy sort of red. “You really think I’m wonderful?”

Alice beamed at him, and nodded.

Oliver looked away and mumbled something she couldn’t decipher, but he was smiling now, the silliest look on his face, and Alice was smiling, too, looking even sillier than he did, and they just sat there a moment, neither one of them being skyholes, and Alice realized right then that Oliver was her first best friend.

It was a moment she would never forget.

Finally, Oliver cleared his throat.

“Now I’ve told you all my secrets,” he said. “Will you tell me yours?”

Alice bit her lip and looked into her lap. Her heart had begun to skip in nervous beats. “You already know my secrets, Oliver. I wish I didn’t have to repeat them.”

“Alice,” he said gently, “I don’t understand. Why won’t you accept that you have an incredible talent? Why does it bother you so?”

Here it was.

Her greatest heartbreak of all.

The talent she didn’t want, the one she wished she never had, the one she convinced herself wasn’t really hers, and all because it didn’t work where it mattered most. Alice wanted to tell Oliver the truth, but she was afraid it would make her cry, and she desperately didn’t want to cry. Still, it was high time to talk about it, and Oliver had earned the right to know.

“So,” she said, nodding. “I can change the colors of things.”

A chill coursed through her; her stomach was already doing flips. She hadn’t talked about this since long before Father left.

Oliver took her hand and squeezed.

“I can change the color of anything. The sky,” she said. “The sun. The grass and trees and bugs and leaves. Anything I want,” she said softly. “I could make day into night and night into day. I could change the color of the air we breathe, of the water we drink.”

“But you don’t,” said Oliver. “You don’t. And I don’t know why. So much talent,” he said. “So much talent and—”

Alice shook her head, hard, cutting him off. “So much talent,” she said, “and I can’t even change the color of me.” She looked up, looked at him, her eyes wild and desperate. “I could change you,” she said, and touched a finger to his cheek, his face flipping colors from brown to red to green. “I could turn you ten shades of blue in the time it takes to blink,” she said softly, and dropped her hand. “I can change the colors of everyone else, but I can’t change this skin,” she said, raking her fingers down her face. “Can’t change my eyes. Can’t even make myself look more like my own family,” she said, her voice breaking. “Do you know how hard it is,” she said, “to have the power to change everything but myself?”


“I have no color, Oliver.” Her voice was a whisper now. “No pigment. I don’t look anything like the people I love.”

“But, Alice,” Oliver said softly. “The people who love you wouldn’t care if you had giraffe skin.”

Alice focused on the rug under her foot, and nearly smiled. “Father probably wouldn’t mind,” she said. “Father would probably love me no matter anything.”

“And your mother,” Oliver said, “she loves you, too,” but Alice shook her head.

“I don’t know,” she said, and bit her lip. “Mother was so excited when she first learned of my ability—Father was the one who told her, even though I asked him not to.” She hesitated. “But after Father left, something happened to Mother. Something changed in her, made her mean.” She paused, remembering. “Mother made me practice—every day in the mirror—she made me practice turning myself a different color. But it never worked, and Mother soon tired of me. But then she remembered how much she liked ferenberries—”

Oliver gasped.

“—and made me go hunting for them.” Alice looked away. “Gathering ferenberries is the only thing I’m any good for.”

“But I thought ferenberries were invisible!” Oliver said, eyes wide. And then he whispered, “And I thought they weren’t allowed under the Ferenwood Code of Permissible Food Things.”

“They’re not really invisible,” Alice said, scrunching up her face. “They’re just very good chameleons. They blend almost perfectly into any background, so they’re hard to find.” She shrugged. “But all I had to do was find a single one, and I could change all of them to a color I could see. So I’d pick dozens at a time.”

Oliver was visibly impressed.

“And I didn’t know they weren’t allowed under the Ferenwood Code of Permissible Food Things,” Alice added nervously.

Oliver was so stunned he had to stand. “Well,” he finally said. “Your mother sounds absolutely hideous.” And then, “Forgive me,” he said, clapping a hand over his mouth. “I spoke out of turn. It’s not my place to—”

“That’s alright,” Alice said with a shaky smile. “Mother will be better when Father comes home. He always made her nicer. But I think I’ve disappointed Mother since even before Father left. Perhaps in every way.

“And now,” she said quietly, “the only person who ever really loved me is trapped, hurting somewhere, lost in a world that wants to keep him forever, and I’d do anything to get him back. Anything at all.” Alice touched the silk of her skirts. “You know,” she said quietly, “Father used to tell me I was beautiful.”